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Painted fire: Mentoring in EMS

Learning how to teach and guide the next generation of medics

By Jules Scadden

Mark Twain once said, "Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself." As educators, preceptors, and partners, our words provide the novice EMT or EMT student with the information they need to perform patient care in the field; however, it is the actions and passion of the experienced EMS practitioner that lights a fire of motivation in the novice. Mentors guide the next generation of caregivers and anyone who wants to be effective in their day-to-day job as an EMS practitioner.

Why Mentor?
Through mentoring, the mentee's problem-solving abilities are enhanced and developed. Mentors help the individual hone their practices through professional interaction. The encouragement and support provided to the new EMT or EMT student from mentoring has pronounced long-term effects. Mentoring is an investment in EMS retention and recruitment by ensuring continual growth and development of future personnel. Mentoring provides the emotional safety to think critically in a chaotic environment and the desire to engage in lifelong learning. Guided by the mentor, the novice soon becomes the master.

The mentoring relationship also brings growth and learning to the mentor. The mentor shares their "street method" with the novice and the novice provides the experienced EMT or medic with the most current information or method of performing a skill. The primary goal of mentoring is to enhance lessons learned and help the novice apply those lessons to real-life situations.

Who are Mentors?
Mentors are individuals with a desire to teach and inspire as a role model and friend. They are appropriately available to offer a helping hand with patience and demonstrate an ability to gauge the needs of the novice. They actively listen to questions, acknowledging difficulties while challenging the novice to find solutions.

A mentor recognizes efforts and accomplishments, provides honest feedback about skills and performance through an environment of open communication, and ensures that the mentor-mentee relationship is productive and comfortable for both. Mentors set boundaries and acknowledge when the novices' needs are beyond their abilities, and provide alternative mentoring resources such as networking opportunities.

What is Mentoring?
EMS educators, preceptors, and partners initiate the novice into the culture of the EMS profession. To provide support without a challenge encourages complacency, but challenging without support increases a fear of failure and prevents the novice from looking ahead. Mentoring teaches critical thinking while providing a vision of success through the cushion of guidance and support. Mentors nurture the novice while challenging them to think outside what was taught in the classroom, adapting them to the "real world" and facilitating a professional vision.

How Mentoring Works
When a student or new EMT begins their journey in EMS, they are filled with anticipation. They are going to make a difference and change the world. During this phase, the mentor provides information and guidance. They help the new EMT temper emotions while facilitating a vision for the future. They help the novice set goals for their future, both personally and professionally.

As time passes, the realities soon begin to set in for the new EMT and the survival phase begins. The novice may begin to have trouble keeping up with what is expected, and there may be some confusion over those expectations. This is the time for the mentor to share information, tips, and support. Through listening to frustrations and concerns, the mentor encourages the novice to remember why they became an EMT in the first place.
Eventually the disillusionment phase hits. In essence, this is the "hit the wall" phase when the new EMT begins to question themselves, particularly their capabilities, commitment, and perhaps even self-worth.

Stress builds, escalating those feelings of self-doubt. It is at this phase that mentoring becomes the lifeline of retention. The mentor's support helps the novice over this hurdle by focusing on what has already been accomplished. They turn the negative "glass is half empty" to a more positive "glass is half full" philosophy. The novice needs to understand that every profession and individual goes through periods of slow progress and even disillusionment, but better days are ahead if they turn the focus from the negative to the positive. Without mentoring, the new EMT looks elsewhere, often away from the profession of EMS.

The mentor becomes the coach during this phase. They challenge the novice to focus on the vision and goals set in the beginning. They encourage the novice to voice their frustrations — and help them to see that others share those same frustrations — as well as their professional vision for the future.

The mentor helps the novice see the whole picture through reflection and focus on what is important. The novice begins to feel rejuvenated, seeing the small successes in spite of the disappointments. Their confidence soars as they celebrate their achieved goals. Anticipation begins anew as they look forward to the next challenge. The novice has come full circle becoming an experienced practitioner and mentor themselves.

Mentoring is a vital component to individual and professional development. Developing a mentoring program in the classroom and in EMS services improves recruitment and retention, communication, individual proficiency, and morale through the cultivation of positive thinking. Serving as trusted colleagues, role models, coaches, and teachers, mentors light the fire of success, guiding the next generation of EMS practitioners and the EMS profession as a whole.

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